Why Cities Should Plan for a Healthier Environment


Photo by Jimmy Benson

We have all heard it before: Live Green.  We are urged to recycle, to turn the lights out when we’re not in a room, and to drink from a reusable water bottle. These are all great ways to lessen the impact each individual makes on the environment, but there are larger-scale measures that cities can take to create a healthier environment and to improve the quality of life.

The former mayor of Indianapolis and current Harvard professor Steve Goldsmith will be speaking at the CEOs for Cities Fall National Meeting on October 15-17. Until then, we can find his valuable insight on innovative ideas in public sector innovation on a blog he pioneers through Governing magazine—aptly titled Better, Faster, Cheaper. He writes extensively on making government more efficient, but has also covered other topics such as the bottom-line benefits of greening a city.

Goldsmith discussed a Philadelphia initiative by the name of “Green City, Clean Waters,” which was aimed at addressing the challenges imposed by having a combined sewer overflow. The contamination problems caused by this system are both damaging to the environment and costly in cleanup and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violation fees. The system proposed by “Green City, Clean Waters” focuses on stormwater reduction and management infrastructure rather than replacement of the old pipes, leveraging new technology to cut costs and reduce potential contaminants.

Green infrastructure can be manifested in a variety of different ways. Using renewable energy for our public facilities can pay back the cost of construction and support operations. Our transportation systems, too, have an incredible impact on the environment and economic growth. The Green Dividend of CEOs for Cities shows that if we reduce the number of miles driven by the average American by one mile per day (about 4 percent), 156 million Americans would collectively drive 156 million fewer miles per day, or about 57 billion fewer miles per year. At $3.50 per gallon for gasoline, the nation would save $10 billion per year on fuel. Add the expense of purchasing and maintaining vehicles, and the total savings would be $28.6 billion per year!

An invesment in public transportation, as well as pedestrian and bicycle facilities, improves the experience of using alternative transport.  Breaking free of our dependency on cars cuts down on vehicle emissions which allows for the proliferation of green space, thus reducing stormwater runoff by acting as a natural filter for contaminants. In addition to the $10 billion per year we would save as a nation based on decreased gas use, we would save on pollution remediation actions.

The important takeaway is that it’s not just important to encourage a cleaner, greener, environmentally healthier city—it makes economic sense.

Feel free to share with us some other ways we can see economic gains by greening our cities!

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